Is there “Wealth Discrimination” like there is Sex Discrimination?

18 02 2011

Why are so many people “pro-capital” and “anti-labor?” It is especially strange when these very same people would be better served to being pro labor and anti capital. The protests in Wisconsin by state employees, who the governor there wants to cut, underscores this widespread American bias.

Marjorie Kelly in her book, The Divine Right of Capital, says this bias is built right into the language of corporate income statements. She notes how wages and salaries are considered “costs” when this is purely an arbitrary bias. Kelly proposes a simple, profound and yet radical change to the “language” of the corporate income statement.

Instead of defining profits as:

Profits = Revenue – Cost,

where Cost = Employee Wages & Salaries + Cost of Materials

Kelly suggests that the identity should read as follows:

Profits + Employee Wages & Salaries = Revenues – Cost of Materials

The thinking here is that a company should divvy up between workers and owners of the company what is left of total sales after the materials of production are paid for.

Kelly makes a good comparison between sex discrimination and wealth discrimination. Wealth discrimination is the prejudice particularly held by Americans in favor of wealth and giving more prestige to wealth than is legitimate as in the financial statements of corporations or in tax codes of governments.

Kelly says:

“We have yet to see that capitalism suffers not from countless social problems but from one problem: the power of wealth. It will benefit us to come to agreement on this, just as feminism benefited from agreement about the power of men. It would not have been enough to see poor funding for girls’ athletics as one problem, unequal wages for women as a separate problem, and harassment in the workplace as still a different problem. These battles became one when their common source in sex discrimination was recognized. Yet today we chase after corporate pollution as one problem, low wages as another problem, and corporate welfare as still a third problem. They’re all manifestations of wealth discrimination – the insistence that more wealth for the wealthy is the single greatest need. When we recognize this core issue, our separate battles will become one. And that battle will gain momentum.”

Kelly goes onto say that as in the case of sex discrimination where it is NOT about vilifying men, in wealth discrimination, it is not about vilifying the wealthy or the desire to be wealthy.

“We fool ourselves if we think we can find the enemy somewhere…The problem is in our internal maps and rethinking these can require some vilification of outmoded views. But we must remember that we’re vilifying the value system of wealth discrimination – not the wealthy themselves.”

“The point is not to do away with wealth but to change the system design that gives illegitimate power to wealth – just as in the fight against sexism, the point was not to do away with men but to change the system that gave illegitimate power to men.”

A conscious economics is being very careful about how we create our world with language (amplifying other thinkers such as Fernando Flores, John Searle and Elinor Ostrom). Language makes all the difference. Kelly emphasizes this point as well.

“The most powerful language a corporation uses is the language of financial statements. Here we find not rhetoric but power that determines income. …We might begin to see corporate activity in a different light with an Employee Income Statement [rather than a shareholder income statement].”